Sports, for their own sake, are terrific.
The simple physicality of throwing yourself into something with reckless abandon, being faster and stronger, jumping higher is part of our DNA. No further proof is needed than a toddler given something to jump off or onto.
But as those fearless flyers take a bump or two, the life lessons begin. The adults in any child’s orbit, we hope, will endeavor to make sure the many positive and translatable lessons to be learned in sports are reinforced.
‘Win or Lose, I Will Always Do My Best’
Those words close the Little League pledge, written in 1954 by the then-president of the youth baseball league.
Writing for the New York Times in 2013, current Little League president and CEO Stephen D. Keener, expounded on the values represented in that pledge.
“While striving to win, children learn about teamwork, leadership and sportsmanship, all of which can contribute to their development as solid citizens,” Keener wrote. “In organized team sports, children work together to accomplish a task and learn from their mistakes. These lessons directly translate into the classroom and beyond.”
Here are some other concepts waiting to be absorbed from sports and turned into life skills.
This seems obvious, right? But most adults can think of many co-workers or relatives who simply aren’t team players. Life is full of situations where it behooves us to look past or celebrate differences, to work through conflicts and work with others. A child who has developed the ability to value and respect others, who is humble about his/her accomplishments and appreciates the efforts of others, will be welcome on any team.
Maybe your child isn’t playing as much as he or she would like. Maybe it’s not as much fun as the little bugger thought. Maybe you want to say, “Hey, I paid for it, so you’re going.” The truth is, honoring a commitment can bring its own rewards. Whatever happens to end a season — the championship win or the eliminating loss or the positive parting words from a teammate, coach or foe — will imbue more character than quitting ever will.
Too many of us chuckle at the notion, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin.’ ” Many kids’ first sentences seem to be “I don’t know” and “I didn’t do it.” Where there’s a line, they’ll cross it — or claim the ball, foot or puck didn’t. Call them on it. Impress upon them the importance following the rules.
There’s more than playing by the rules. Winning and losing with grace are equally important. Children should be taught to congratulate foes, thank officials, coaches and fans, and respect equipment and property. Whining? Never. Cheer teammates, don’t trash-talk foes.
Bad breaks occasionally happen to good people — be it an injury, a wayward bounce, a missed call or a coach’s favoritism. Those bad breaks are fatal to sulkers, and opportunities for growth to those who choose to persevere.
Realizing there are skills you don’t possess, but with work can acquire, helps establish an ethic that can be applied over a lifetime: Set a goal, figure out a way to reach it. If the primary lesson is “practice makes perfect,” so be it. There are far worse approaches to life.
Virtually every game, every practice, every postgame snack line or sandlot smackdown presents an opportunity to learn, grow and mature. Coaches, parents and friends — especially when they treat each other like the adults in the room — can ensure that youngsters translate those opportunities into lessons they’ll carry into school, work, and their relationships with cherished friends and fellow citizens of the world.
Josh Wintermantel is founder and CEO of Hype Socks, which manufactures and distributes custom athletic socks for teams and athletic organizations throughout the United States.